Kirkcaldy rugby: John Methven honoured for 60 years service to his sport

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Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach, according to late Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, and that’s a maxim, though wilfully unfair, that could be adapted to apply to Fife rugby enthusiast John Methven’s relationship with his beloved sport.

Despite the former geography teacher never having played rugby at any level of note, so taken with it was he after giving it a go in his younger days at St Andrews University and Kirkcaldy that he’s devoted a sizeable chunk of his life since to enjoying watching others play, helping them do so and recording their exploits for the enlightenment of Fife Free Press readers and other fellow fans.

Methven’s fledgling rugby career was cut short before it could get started due to childhood polio leaving him with a club-foot, but he’s remained involved with his home-town team off the pitch in a variety of roles, including as president, secretary and fixtures convener.

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That’s a turn of events resembling a distant echo of the way Borderer Bill McLaren, a man he’d work alogside in later life while living in Hawick and teaching at the high school there, redirected his enthusiasm for rugby into becoming the best-known commentator in the history of the sport after a bout of near-fatal turberculosis in 1947 left him unable to play.

Kirkcaldy rugby stalwart John Methven (Pic: Fife Photo Agency)Kirkcaldy rugby stalwart John Methven (Pic: Fife Photo Agency)
Kirkcaldy rugby stalwart John Methven (Pic: Fife Photo Agency)

Methven, 87, recalled: “I played rugby in my younger days but not very well and not for very long.

“I played at university and also the odd game for Kirkcaldy but not many.

“I had polio in 1947 – I’d be 11 then – and that left me with a club-foot. It didn’t hold me back all that much but it didn’t help.

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“I played golf after rugby, until I was 60-odd, but then I had an eye operation and when I went back to playing, I could see two balls on the tee and I reckoned I had double vision, so that’s when I gave that up too.”

John Methven with his Kirkcaldy and Central Fife Sports Council special award (Photo: Paul Cranston)John Methven with his Kirkcaldy and Central Fife Sports Council special award (Photo: Paul Cranston)
John Methven with his Kirkcaldy and Central Fife Sports Council special award (Photo: Paul Cranston)

Methven has been writing match reports for the Fife Free Press on and off for over 60 years, latterly chronicling Kirkcaldy’s fight for survival in Tennent’s National League Division 2.

“I wrote my first report in 1960, and that one was hand-written,” he recalled. “I was just stepping in for the regular guy because he was off.

“I did the odd one until maybe 1989 and then I stepped in and did every one from then until last year.

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“I would have carried on but I had season tickets for both Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh and they decided to play matches on Saturdays at 3pm so I decided it was time to give up and somebody else stepped in, but he packed in a few weeks ago and I was asked to take over again, so I did. I still enjoy it. I’ve always enjoyed writing. It’s not been a hardship.

“I was co-author of Kirkcaldy’s centenary booklet 50 years ago and I wrote a history of midlands district rugby in 1989 as well.”

Methven’s love of rugby stretches beyond the bounds of Beveridge Park to Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium, having been heading south of the Forth to watch the national team in action since the late 1940s.

“I got an invitation from the Scottish Rugby Union to watch Scotland playing Italy in March and that marked 75 years almost to the day since I first went to Murrayfield for the England game of 1948 and I’ve only missed a handful of international games there since,” he told us.

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His fondest rugby memories are of Scotland’s grand slam victories in what was then the Five Nations back in 1984 and 1990, with Jim Telfer and Ian McGeechan as head coach respectively.

“Scotland-wise, I’ve most enjoyed their grand slam-winning matches of 1984 and especially 1990 when they beat England,” Methven – married to Claire and a father to two daughters, current club president Ann and Jane – told us.

“I was a guest of the SRU again in 1990 and I was treated to the full monty that day with lunch at Murrayfield before and further hospitality afterwards and the stadium was full of large Englishmen with moustaches and they were full of confidence that they were going to win but Scotland did it on the day.”

Closer to home, he says Beveridge Park holds many a happy memory for him too.

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“I’ve got lots of good memories of watching rugby in Kirkcaldy, going back to when the national leagues started 50 years ago,” he said.

“I suppose winning promotion to the top division in 1999, just called division one in those days, would be the happiest.

“It went to the last game of the season and Kirkcaldy were playing East Kilbride, and they were way down the pecking order at the time, and we beat them at home to get second place and promotion.

“Our first home game in division one was against Melrose and we walloped them.”

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Recalling becoming friends with physical education teacher McLaren, alive from 1923 to 2010, Methven added: “I spent five years in Hawick at the end of the 1960s and into the 1970s teaching down there and I got to know a lot of the rugby folk. I knew Bill McLaren particularly well.

“Those were great days for rugby in Hawick, and when the premiership came along, they won if for its first five years.”

Methven’s devotion to rugby earned him a Scottish ClubSport accolade for service to sport at this year’s Kirkcaldy and Central Fife Sport Council awards, his citation saying: “This individual lives and breathes sport, following his team home and away and taking on various roles within their governing body alongside roles within the district set-up of the north and midlands.

“Continuing after his playing career was cut short in his youth days, there can’t be a more active participant in the local sports scene than him.

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“He is well into his 80s and continues to show enthusiasm and vigour that many of his younger peers could only hope to aspire to.

“He has missed only five internationals in 75 years and it is thought that he has a programme for every single one of those matches. He is seen as Mr Kirkcaldy rugby.”